Thursday, December 5, 2019

There shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain; 
for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, 
as water covers the sea.
Isaiah 11:9

Have you ever been looking for something...and found something else?  Something you forgot you had? Something you treasured?

Let’s say you were looking for a Christmas cookie recipe you clipped last year.  After searching everywhere you go to that one place you were trying to avoid - the dreaded junk drawer at the end of the kitchen cabinet.  You know, the one where we stuff everything we’re afraid to get rid of. The one we neaten only when it is stuck shut due to the overflow.

You empty about two thirds of the drawer, and there it is!  Not the silly cookie recipe but your grandmother’s chestnut stuffing recipe - the one that you’ve been thinking about for years.  Your heart leaps as you see her beautiful handwriting on a yellowed index card.

Serendipity?  

A collaboration of St. Anthony and the Holy Spirit?

A few weeks ago I was searching the 21st century version of the dreaded kitchen drawer - the hard drive of my computer.  I typed “advent cycle-a” into the search bar and waited hopefully. What I wanted never showed up. What I received was far better.

It was a copy of this column from the Second Sunday of Advent 2016. The year is significant because today is the first time we hear these readings since then. 

In it, I used the image of God’s holy mountain in today’s first reading and offertory song to introduce the newly-formed Social Concerns Ministry.  Here is part of what I wrote: 

In January St. Mary’s will be forming a social concerns team.  We will be looking for ways that we can actively work toward the building of Christ’s kingdom here in Nutley and beyond. 
As you hear and sing Isaiah’s words in today’s offertory song please consider reaching out to me via e-mail or at the parish center to be part of this social concerns effort.
In three years our list of volunteers has swelled to just under 100 people.   
What began with our participation in the Nutley-Belleville care kitchen has grown to include other on-going and one-time efforts.  
We’ve just completed our first year of the We Are St. Mary’s social gatherings on the first Sunday of each month and are considering expanding in the coming year. 
We’ve attracted a coordinator, Bruce Segall, who helps St. Mary’s stay at the forefront of the Church’s efforts to be a Community of Salt and Light.
So what about you?  Will the words of Isaiah move you to be a part of our efforts?
All it takes to start is a phone call (973) 235-1100 or an Email b.mauro1@yahoo.com.

Blessed to be in ministry with you at St. Mary’s,

Bruce

Sunday, December 1, 2019

“The Advent mystery…
 Is the beginning of the end of all in us that is not yet Christ.”
                                   Thomas Merton

I have been planning the advent season since early October.

Isaiah’s image of God’s holy mountain never fails to inspire. The melodies written in the somber yet hopeful tones of the minor mode move me.  Song ideas and their places in the liturgy come easily.  

But then I am confronted by today’s gospel.    

Two men out in the field. Two women grinding at the mill.  In each case, one accompanied Jesus to the Kingdom. The other was left behind.   I can’t help but extrapolate two church musicians playing at Mass......

Why?  Is this the advent mystery to which Thomas Merton refers?

The answer seems to be contained in Jesus’ command to stay awake.

Stay awake.  What does this mean?  I’ve been thinking about this for the past week. 

Maybe the people in today’s gospel were so busy doing they failed to hear Jesus calling.

This might mean that the whole idea of preparation is not a verb but an adjective. 

Not about what I am doing but my state of being.  

Maybe Advent is about being mindful of the presence of Christ around me and being open to his call. 

One of the acclamations I’ve included this year is “Prepare ye, the way of the Lord.” The cantor will sing the first part and all will respond with the second part. I’m sure you will know the tune.

I’ve purposely planned periods of quiet instrumental music around the singing to allow for a time of being within this time of doing.

Blessed to begin this Advent season with you at St. Mary’s,

Bruce

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Who Shot JR?

Who Shot J.R.?


The title of this article may remind baby boomers of a time when a family’s mid-week activities were scheduled around their favorite t.v. drama. If you are gen-x or gen-y, allow me to explain:  (cue Star Wars thee and roll text)

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away......
There was no Netflix
No binge-watching
No “Let’s watch one more episode and sleep  late tomorrow.”

Today, the one thing people of all ages have in common is that when the current season ends everyone must wait for the next one to be released.  

Producers and writers have come up with the perfect device to tease us during this time of waiting.  It is called the cliff-hanger.

So what does this have to do with the Solemnity of Christ the King?   

Consider that the producers of the lectionary have taken us through an entire church-year.  The writers of the Gospels have presented episodes including:

  •  Prepare ye the way of the Lord
  •  A child is born for us today
  •  If you love me, you will keep my commandments
  •  I am leaving but will send you the Advocate; the Holy Spirit
  •  The kingdom of heaven is like…..

On this last Sunday of the church year we arrive at what may be the greatest of all cliff-hangers.  

Jesus is literally hanging on the cross accompanied by two thieves who also on a cross and at a “cross-road.”  

The cliff-hanger is presented by the opposing alternatives presented by each thief.  One is fueled by failure and doubt, the other inspired by hope and faith.  

We sing the resolution to the cliff-hanger in today’s processional hymn “Crown Him With Many Crowns” (#732).  I hope you will follow and pray the text whether you choose to sing or not.

Blessed to have spent another year in ministry with you at St. Mary’s,

Bruce

Friday, November 15, 2019

Previously on This is Us

One day this past summer my daughter called saying she had tickets to watch a taping of “Late Night” with Seth Meyers. The big guest of the evening would be Milo Vetimiglia, the star of “This is Us”. 


We arrived at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, tickets in hand before 3:30, While the taping did not begin for 2 hours, we were told that if we didn’t arrive by this time our spots would be given to someone with “standby tickets.”


Being on time wasn’t the only rule. We had to be dressed appropriately (we might get on camera). We were also told (multiple times) that once we got inside the studio, we could not leave until the taping was over. If we did, we could not re-enter.


Finally, we were taken as groups on elevators and assigned numbers to enter the theater in a prescribed order.  The rule was to file in and take the next seat at the direction of the NBC page standing at the end of the row. There would be no switching seats or sitting on the end and forcing people to climb over us.


At each stop we were entertained by professional comedians whose job it was to pump us up.  We were repeatedly reminded that “the success of the show would be directly related to our energy.”


I can tell you that Alessandra and I followed all the rules and were rewarded by hearing Milo Ventimiglia talk about his new movie and his experience on This Is Us.


***


Consider how you would feel if the previous “rules” were requirements for coming to mass today. 


Now take a few minutes to reread this article and see what you’d accept and what you would not if it was required for you to attend Mass. (Don’t worry, I’ll wait.)


Now I’m certainly not advocating adding rules for admission to or participation in mass.  But out of curiosity, did you follow my instructions in the last paragraph? If not, why? If so, were you put off by these rules?


I’m sure you would agree that hearing Milo Ventimiglia pitch a movie that lasted about two weeks in theaters is nowhere near as important as meeting Christ in the Eucharist. So why would people (including myself) follow multiple rules to view a taping of a talk show yet bristle if asked to come outside our comfort zone at Mass?  


I conclude with a quote from the church’s Constitution on Sacred Liturgy.  (The emphasis is my own.)

The church, therefore, earnestly desires that Christ faithful when present at this mystery of faith should not be there as strangers or silent spectators; on the contrary, for a good understanding of the rites and prayers they should take part in the sacred action conscious of what they are doing with devotion and full collaboration.


Blessed to be in ministry with you at St. Mary’s,


Bruce



Friday, November 8, 2019

This saying is trustworthy: 
If f we have died with him, we shall also live with him.
                               2 Timothy 2:11

It is Monday morning. The deadline for this “Liturgical note” sits at the top of my to-do list.  Sipping my coffee, I take a fresh glance at the readings which will be proclaimed this weekend.

The first reading from the Second Book of Maccabees seems like a dramatic moment in a Netflix miniseries. The torture of the seven brothers and their mother is vividly gruesome.   To make things worse, what we hear proclaimed today is an ABRIDGED VERSION.  

Feeling overwhelmed, I procrastinate by opening my yahoo news feed.   Before I write more about what Ii find this let me go back to today’s scripture reading.

The Maccabees were a group of Jewish people who preserved the faith during a time of intense  persecution. Their valor and success are integral to the Jewish celebration of Hanukah.

You may ask why this book is part of our (Catholic) bible? More importantly, you may wonder why the  crafters of the lectionary decided to include it on the 32nd Sunday of Ordinary time. I would suggest two reasons:

  1.  It is a story of fidelity (i.e faithfulness) to the law.
  2.  It tells of God’s promise that those who are faithful will have a future beyond death. *  
* hence the quote from Paul’s letter to Timothy at the top of this page.

This brings me to the headline on my yahoo feed that continues to be part of my prayer and reflection:

“At the age of 95, Jimmy Carter says he’s “completely at ease with death”.

Despite living what many would consider to be an extraordinary life, the former president continues to call himself “a simple peanut farmer”. He lives in the same modest home that he lived in before he became president. At 95 he finds the time to teach Sunday School and the energy to participate in building homes for Habitat for Humanity.

President Carter may not be a hero like the seven brothers and their mother who refused to renounce their faith when faced with torture and death. He is, however what gerontologists call a super-senior. More importantly he is an example of what it is to live a life of fidelity and trust in Christ’s promise of eternal life.

I have selected Stand By Me (#633) as our offertory hymn as it highlights God’s faithfulness during times of trial.  

We will also sing Tis A Gift to be Simple (#518) as a reminder that faithful living need not be dramatic or headline catching.  It can be as simple as reconsidering how we spend our time and moving service higher up our to-do lists.

Last, but not least; we will conclude our liturgies by honoring our veterans in the closing blessing and by singing Mine Eyes Have Seen The Glory (#577)

Blessed to be in ministry with you at St. Mary’s

Bruce


Thursday, October 31, 2019

Lord, for your faithful people life is changed, not ended.

Lord, for your faithful people life is changed, not ended.
                                                                        Preface for Christian Death

I wake up early, open my computer but go no further. The view through the window has taken hold of my attention.  It’s not yet 7 a.m. but it is still dark. The rain shimmers as it passes between me and the streetlights. I walk to the window for a better look. When did all these leaves fall?   I open the window. It is warmer than I expected. It is as if I am standing on the cusp of summer and fall.

The church is also on the cusp of two seasons:  ordinary time (the end of the current liturgical year) and advent (the beginning of a new year).  Today is the first of 3 Sundays which precede this transition - The Solemnity of Christ the King.

The gospel for Christ the King reminds me of this dark morning.  Jesus hangs on the cross and and is taunted by the authorities as well as a criminal hanging next to him. They see him as just another dying leaf hanging from a tree limb - ready to fall and be swept away.  

Those with eyes of faith see something different.   

I am  the true vine and my Father is the vine-grower.  (John 15:1)

During November the church directs our attention to those who have lived, died and returned to the vine-grower.

Among these are the saints whose names are known by many like Saint Luke, the recorder of today’s gospel and the newly canonized Saint John Henry Newman.  

There are also those whose names are less known but precious to each of us.  They are our spouses, parents, grandparents, children, mentors and friends who have died.  As we receive the Eucharist we are communion with them through Jesus..

During communion we will pray the Litany of the Saints (#721).  The response “pray for us” in an invocation to the saints for us as well as those souls who await entrance into the fullness of God’s kingdom.

Blessed to be in ministry at St. Mary’s and honored to be part of the funeral liturgies for your loved ones over these past years.

Bruce

Sunday, October 27, 2019

“O God, be merciful to me a sinner.”
                                                  Luke 18:13b   


Today we will be hearing from a very important preacher.  It is the same great preacher who preached last Sunday. You might call this man -  “The Ultimate Preacher!” 

OK, so that was a shameless attempt to get your attention.  

Consider the first line of last week’s gospel:  Jesus told the disciples a parable about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary.  Luke 18:1  

There’s no doubt that Jesus was a teacher.  People called him, “Rabboni” (Rabbi in English) which means teacher  But, if you close your eyes as you hear this reading it is not hard to imagine Jesus himself preaching.

Today, we hear another parable found only in Luke’s gospel; The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector.  Don’t miss the significance of Jesus’ choices of characters. Jesus knows his audience will assume that the Pharisee will be the hero and the tax collector the goat.  You and I know better.

The line that echoes in my mind is the humble prayer of the tax collector - O God, be merciful to me a sinner.  We will sing similar words in today’s offertory song, ”The Jesus Song” (#406).

***
This week the church celebrates the Solemnity of All Saints (Friday) and The Commemoration of the Faithful Departed.  (Saturday) It begins is a time when we particularly remember those who have died:

  1. the saints whose names are familiar to many 
  2. the saints whose names are familiar in our own hearts and memories 
  3. those who are still waiting to gain entrance into what John describes as:  A new heaven and a new earth, the holy city, a new Jerusalem.

November is a time when the church on earth joins with the first two groups and in praying with greater intensity for the latter or these groups.

Here at St. Mary’s we will begin the All Saints liturgy by praying John Becker’s setting of the Litany of the Saints (#721).  We will continue this prayer during communion for each of the Masses this November.

Blest to be in ministry at St. Mary’s,


Bruce

Friday, October 18, 2019

If God Is For Us


If God is for us, who can be against us?
                                 Paul’s letter to the Romans 8:31

I saw it and wondered what to do. The prudent part of me answered immediately, “It won’t come up again for another three years, ignore it, everyone else does.”

I’m speaking about a reading that comes up just once in the three-year cycle.  Here is a portion:

In those days, Amalek came and waged war against Isreal. So Moses said to Joshua, “Choose some men for us, and tomorrow go out and engage Amalek in battle. I will be standing on top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand.  Exodus 17:8,9

If you’re not sure about for whom we should root and why, send me an e-mail.

And Joshua mowed Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword.  Exodus 17:10

Am I the only having a hard time cheering the victory? 

If you’re having a hard time with your decision, take a look at the verse we don’t hear this morning.

Then the LORD said to Moses: Write this down in a book as something to be remembered, and recite it to Joshua:  I will completely blot out the memory of Amalek from under the heavens. Exodus 17:14

Wow!  That is harsh!

For the past few week’s I’ve researched, studied and reflected on this portion of Exodus.  The best help I have found is from Bishop Robert Barron who suggests looking at this reading allegorically. 

An allegory is a figure of speech that teaches a moral lesson using (in this case “historical”) characters, figures and events. 

So, what is the moral lesson of this story?

For me, the lesson has nothing to do our enemies or the memories of the blotted out Amalek.  It has nothing to do with war, or even the just use of force. 

The lesson is about God and comes from Paul’s letter to the church at Rome.  We sang it as our processional hymn last week and will sing it again today as we leave church.  It is written at the top of this article.

Blessed to be in ministry at St. Mary’s,

Bruce

PS
I continue to struggle with violent biblical texts.

PPS
If you are at the 10:30 liturgy you will not find the psalm in the usual place.  Turn to #620.




There shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain;  for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord,  as water covers the...